Diary of a Mad Horticulturist, 2.0

I’m so moved. Baby and I have welcomed into the world … well, really, the front yard … our first (sniff) child!

Peewee, not to be confused with P.G., hydrangea.

This baby hydrangea is the result of my very first lesson in propagation–right after Marc and I started dating in summer 2009. I blogged about a few of those lessons, way back in the day when it seemed kind of romantic that my kitchen had started to become an impromptu  horticulture laboratory.

More quickly than you might think I was to become jaded. But back then, the fact that I couldn’t turn around without knocking over a pot filled with something that looked  suspiciously like a dead twig didn’t bug me at all.  And all those plastic bags whose contents I might have wanted to toss on the compost because they seemed to hold nothing more than wilted produce? I’d get positively giddy at finding they were instead filled with precious cuttings from some rare viburnum developed in the eighteen-teens. Yeah, for real. That’s what love will do for you.

With all those experiments cooking, you can imagine that some went, shall we say, awry. The ones I was supposed to water, for example … well, the less said about those the better. But the one  I left completely to Mother Nature … well, as you see above, it was a spectacular success.

The technique the McVicker taught me is called layering and involves  picking a nice low-hanging branch, stripping off the leaves where it forks, and scoring it lightly with a thumbnail. Using an ordinary garden staple, you then  fix it in the ground. Add compost, a bit of mulch, a brick to keep it from moving around too much–and forget about it.

(Here are some of the pictures we took at the time. Oh, and my original blog post with the full description of  layering is here.)


Start with a staple…

Pick a likely branch and lay it flat to the ground …

Strip off the leaves and cover with soil…


The plant we used was a plain blue hydrangea, probably Nikko, that grows nearly waist high in summer and sets flower heads the size of cabbages. Since this is what the plant looks like in all its glory…

June 2010–a visual feast.



… I think you can see why I’d want it to reproduce!

But I don’t want you to get the wrong idea from looking at this plant. That is, I don’t want you to get the idea that living with a horticulturist means having the most beautiful yard on the block. The reality is … not so much. The cobbler’s children have no shoes, as the saying goes–the carpenter’s have no cupboards–and the landscape designer’s are waiting for mama to go outside and weed!

And that has not happened. To be scrupulously fair, I’m the one who’s not holding up my end. I had allowed my garden to go for at least two years before Baby moved in (that whole dissertation marathon). And afterwards, between his summer schedule and the crappy hours of the various soul-sucking “gap jobs” I worked while biding my time for the defense and the next academic job fair, the yard got very little attention.

So I was thrilled to see that the McVicker, after getting rained out of  attendance at the City Market on Saturday, was too wired to sit around the house but instead charged out into the yard in a hoodie–during a downpour, mind you.

When the sun came out later that afternoon, I stepped out to take a look around.  I was admiring the balance he’d gotten with just a few snips of the pruning shears on this plant …

Check out the balance on this pruning job.

And then, I noticed something off to the right. Something that looked suspiciously like  … Was it? Could it be?

There … off in the right corner…

It was.

A “peewee” hydrangea–a chip off the Nikko blue block!

So the next step is to pot it and nurse it along to a much juicier size … at which point we’ll either give it away, sell it, or find a nice spot in the yard.

But it was a lovely surprise, like a wish long forgotten that suddenly comes true. It’s nice to be reminded that they do that … come true, I mean.


Last summer was so evil and dry that I thought our little experiment had failed. But the spring rains that have made this such a magical spring also brought little Peewee back to life.

That was his recipe. And it was one I followed pretty much to the letter.

2 comments for “Diary of a Mad Horticulturist, 2.0

  1. Pam
    April 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I love propagating things. It becomes horrifically contagious (success, that is – heck, even lack of success does deter an obsessed plant person). I used to walk with friends around Hampton Park in Charleston – and my friends would be embarrassed as I broke off small (inner) branches of various plants that caught my attention. I just love it when they root – I mean, how incredible is that? I’ve got a gorgeous near-purple mophead hydrangea rooting right now (rooted from a cutting) – and it’s got a few perfect leaves and it’s time to put her in a bigger pot. Now I’m starting to root azaleas (the old-fashioned, smaller flowering kind with muted colors) – you can peg them too. The coolest thing down here in Charleston is that you can have spring/early summer tomatoes – and then root from those same plants for your fall crop.

  2. April 19, 2011 at 9:01 am

    That’s amazing–that tomato thing. What are you guys? Zone 8? We’re a 7, with pockets of 6 along the Blue Ridge. The last frost date here is still almost a month away. Sigh.

Comments are closed.